Climate change — it’s a topic we can’t stop talking about. As we burn fossil fuels, like coal, petroleum and natural gas, we produce harmful emissions. These emissions trap heat in the atmosphere and pollute the Earth.
Modern buildings are the third-largest consumer of fossil energy, right after industry and agriculture. To reduce the effects of climate change — prolonged droughts, frequent wildfires, natural disasters, etc. — this sector must make a change.
Many businesses and municipalities have set goals to go net-zero — produce as much energy as they consume. The result is green buildings, those that implement eco-friendly practices in a variety of ways. The integration of renewable energy technology is a must. However, green buildings also consider sustainable applications in water use, heating and cooling.
Green initiatives are necessary for a sustainable future. As the energy market transforms, industries must adapt to renewable energy construction.
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Green Buildings and Energy Consumption
Ideally, green buildings allow us to preserve the natural environment around the project site. Construction should promote a healthy environment and conserve resources. Green buildings have a variety of benefits, including:
- Protecting our ecosystem
- Reducing operating costs
- Improving air and water quality
- Minimizing strain on local infrastructure
Construction is an energy-hungry industry. Everything from the production of materials to the building process requires vast amounts of power. Studies show construction is responsible for 23% of air pollution, 40% of water pollution and 50% of landfill waste.
Options in Renewable Technology
To establish sustainable practices, construction companies are turning to renewable power. When renewables are an integral part of the process, companies can significantly reduce consumption.
Many renewable technologies exist, including solar, geothermal, wind power, hydroelectric, bioenergy and more.
Solar energy, where the sun’s rays are captured and converted into electricity, is one of the most prominent. Silicon solar cell panels collect and conduct electricity like a battery. The more panels you have, the more power you can generate.
Another option, geothermal energy, harvests power directly from the Earth’s core. The center of the Earth is around 10,000° Fahrenheit — about the temperature of the sun’s surface. This heat radiates upward, providing humans with an endless supply.
Wind power requires giant turbines that create electricity from natural airflows. When the wind blows the blades of the turbines, it spins a generator inside that produces energy.
Renewable Energy in Construction
New strategies for implementing sustainable practices emerge each day. A variety of options exist that construction companies should consider, including:
- An energy audit to evaluate a build’s energy use
- Window replacements to conserve heat and air conditioning
- An upgrade to existing structures with sustainable technologies
Let’s take an in-depth look at construction practices that reduce on-site energy use.
Renewables start as early as the design stage. Modern architects can incorporate energy-efficiency into building concepts and innovations. Consider structures that take advantage of natural light, including rooftop solar panels, smart windows and energy-efficient HVAC systems.
These strategies allow for smaller systems to heat and cool a building, resulting in energy savings and emissions reductions. Architects can take advantage of renewable technologies to ensure companies keep sustainability in mind.
By using low-impact building materials, the construction industry can reduce embodied energy, power associated with the manufacturing of products. Low impact materials include those that are repurposed and recycled from local sources. Consider second-hand lumber, cellulose insulation, clay and stone.
We’re continually expanding the materials used to reduce energy consumption. For example, manufacturers produce trillions of cigarettes each year. As a result, butts are dumped into the environment and emit toxic waste. What if we could transform this waste into eco-friendly building materials? At RMIT, researchers did just that. Cigarette butts create a concrete alternative that can absorb and irradiate light.
Updated Building Standards
With new buildings comes new standards. At the forefront of this mission is the U.S. Green Building Council, which developed the LEED certification. LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — offers verification of a building’s sustainable features. To date, it’s the most popular green rating system in the world, with almost 2 million certified square feet.
LEED certification has four levels — Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. A business can move up the ranks by racking in more sustainability points. The more points you gain, the higher your level. In addition to LEED, many organizations host conferences to educate construction companies on the latest renewable practices.
Constructing a Future With Renewable Energy
When companies see the benefit of renewable energy, they start to make a positive change. Energy-conscious construction is possible.
Some organizations, like GRID, believe a grassroots effort is necessary. At no cost to homeowners, they install rooftop solar panels. Their goal is to ease the transition toward renewable energy in an essential way. One homeowner saw her utility bill drop from approximately $80 per month to around $0.
To date, GRID has saved families more than $100 million in energy expenses. They’ve also prevented more than 300,000 tons of emissions from polluting the atmosphere.
We have the resources and technology needed to build the most energy-efficient buildings yet. It’s up to us to ensure we’re constructing a future we want to live in.